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Pet Bird Grooming Tips

The how-tos and bird grooming tips that you and your pet bird need.

Jessica Pineda
Posted: May 28, 2013, 4:15 p.m. PDT

Lovebird being groomed
Bird grooming should be performed by an avian veterinarian or professional.

In the wild, parrots depend heavily on a strong beak and nails for climbing, and their feathers are not just for helping them fly; feathers also help keep the bird warm and protected from the elements.

So Why Groom?
There are many reasons to groom, but the main ones are for the pet bird’s health, safety and well-being. If a bird’s nails become overgrown or sharp, they can get caught on a perch, toy or corner of the cage. A fully-flighted pet bird is susceptible to accidental escape, accidental drowning or injury if it flies into a door or window.

How Is It Done?
Grooming is typically performed by two people: One person holds the bird while the other performs the grooming. While it is possible for one experienced person to groom a bird, it is easier to do it with two. Most bird owners take their birds to an avian veterinarian or an avian grooming service, such as those offered by bird-specialty shops.

The parrot is gathered up in a towel and held securely by the neck, with its feet gripping the groomer’s finger or hand. Pressure should not be applied to the chest for any reason! A bird does not breathe like us, and applying pressure to its chest is similar to choking a person.

Grooming should be done as fast as possible, while also being safe, to reduce stress on the bird. If nails and wing feathers cannot be trimmed in a short timespan, the bird should be given a 10- to 20-minute break, or grooming should be done over a period of a couple of days (e.g., nails one day, a wing-feather trim the next).

Grooming is stressful on birds that aren’t used to it, so when it’s all over, be sure to praise your bird for being a good sport.

Wings
Keeping your pet bird fully flighted has its benefits, as it allows the bird to fly away from danger and it provides a means of exercise. On the other hand, a fully-flighted pet bird can easily escape out an open window or door (or even fly into a window if it doesn’t realize the glass is there). There are more risks to consider. A bird isn’t adapted to living in a house or an apartment, and such things as food cooking on a stove or open bowls of water can be fatal if a bird were to fly into them.

It is also easier to handle a bird that has trimmed wing feathers. Some owners choose to trim their birds' wing feathers as they work with them on basic training and then allow the bird to be fully-flighted once basic training is established. Carefully weigh the pros and cons of a flighted bird in your home.

Nails
A bird’s overgrown nail can easily get caught on a perch or toy and torn. If your pet bird’s nails are overgrown, they might make perching and walking painful for your bird.

When clipping the nails, avoid cutting into the quick, the live portion of the nail, which is very sensitive. In lighter-colored nails, the quick is easily visible because of its dark coloring. If your bird has black nails, the quick can’t be seen, so be careful about trimming too far.

Where the nail begins to curve and become pointed is where you clip. Have styptic powder on hand in case you clip too far and the nail begins to bleed. Use a bit of the styptic powder to stop the blood flow, and apply pressure. If the nail doesn’t stop bleeding after 10 minutes, call your vet.

Help keep your pet bird’s nails groomed by offering a grooming perch. It should be slightly larger than the bird’s usual perches, so the bird has to rest on its toes when it stands on it. Place this more abraisive perch near a favored toy or food dish.

What About The Beak?
Used for eating, drinking, climbing and more, the beak is a versatile tool crucial for birds. Made of a hollow bone, blood vessels and nerves, the beak is unique because it grows outward and not at the tip. Flakiness is natural, and most birds keep their beaks in tip-top shape because they use it for so many tasks.

To help keep the beak groomed, supply plenty of toys. "Toys are not just for fun,” said Donna Garrou of the Bird Stuff in Orange, Calif., "they’re also therapeutic.” She recommends lots of toys made of wood and leather, plus natural bark of branches for birds to strip. Chewing is a natural way for birds to keep their beaks groomed.

An overgrown beak should be addressed by an avian veterinarian. "Know your species,” Garrou said, "Some birds, like grey-cheeked parakeets, naturally have long beaks. But an overgrown beak in other species is often a symptom of a nutritional deficiency or other medical problem.”

lovebird on spray bottle
Three are many ways to give your bird a bath, such as misting it with water.

Bath Time For Birdie
There is no cuter sight than a soaking-wet bird screeching in happiness from its bath. Bathing is an important part of keeping a bird’s feathers and skin healthy, and it encourages the bird to groom. Humidity is also important because it keeps feathers from becoming dull and ragged. For the dustier bird species, such as African greys, cockatoos and cockatiels, frequent bathing help keeps their dander down. It is recommended that you bathe your pet bird at least once a week.

At bath time, you can bathe your pet bird in many ways:

Use a mister: A fine spray of water is comforting and doesn’t shoot out squirts of water, which can be scary for a bird.

Showers: There is nothing like a community shower! Buy a shower perch, and allow your bird to join you. Upon seeing how much you enjoy your shower, your bird will want to be part of the fun.

Shallow bowl: Lots of birds bathe in their water bowls. Get a shallow pan and fill it with an inch of water and place it at the bottom of your bird’s cage.

Wet greens: Lay out wet mustard greens for your bird. Not only will they roll around in them, they may even be tempted to try some. (Smaller birds that are reluctant bathers seem to take to this bathing method.)

Humidity: For the bird that can’t stand getting wet, raise the humidity level in your home. When showering, place your bird on a nearby perch or the shower rod so it can be in the steam.

Want to see how birds bathe? Check out this male Eclectus taking a bath

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Pet Bird Grooming Tips

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Reader Comments
Great info!
Alyx, Ky, KY
Posted: 2/14/2013 3:07:37 PM
great article
n, n, TN
Posted: 2/14/2013 9:35:13 AM
good info!
Gabby, San Diego, CA
Posted: 2/13/2013 9:52:06 PM
How do I trim a birds beak if it is severly overgrown when I received the bird?
Courtney, St.George, KS
Posted: 10/10/2012 8:53:48 AM
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